The definition of real heroes

THE continued misuse of the word “hero” – defined as a “person noted or admired for nobility, courage or outstanding achievements” – must not detract from those inspirational individuals whose deeds merit such praise.

A hero is not a multi-millionaire Premier League footballer scoring a winning goal, this is what they’re paid to do, but the soldier who puts their body on the line to save their comrades from enemy fire in Afghanistan, Iraq or other theatres of war.

A hero is not a politician demonstrating subtle skills of statesmanship – voters expect this of their leaders – but the unsung individual who sacrifices their own time to raise tens of thousands of pounds to help Britain’s war wounded.

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A hero is not a so-called celebrity with an inflated ego taking part in a reality TV show like Strictly Come Dancing, but one of the army of incredible people who have together raised £10.7m so the Help for Heroes charity can open Phoenix House, a state-of-the-art recovery centre for injured military personnel, at Catterick – the largest military garrison in Europe.

This facility is long overdue and will make an inordinate difference to its users, and their families, in a county that derives great pride from its association with the Armed Forces.

Part of a £250m commitment by Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and Ministry of Defence to look after those servicemen and women who have suffered life-changing injuries, this inspiring new centre will continue to require the support of the public if it is to fulfil its mission.

Yet what was most humbling, and uplifting, at yesterday’s official opening was the good humour – and optimism – of people such as Gareth Golightly, an injured former soldier whose family is the first to benefit from the new facility, and those brave soldiers still coming to terms with the serious injuries that they suffered while serving in Afghanistan.

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Their astonishing fortitude humbles us all – and gives us even greater incentive to support the real heroes in our midst.

Gove complacent over college role

THE role of colleges has never been more important – nearly one million young people aged between 16 and 24 are still out of work. Many simply do not have the basic skills to enable them to fulfil their potential.

Yet, given this, it is perturbing that there are such serious concerns about the effectiveness of careers guidance – the conclusion of Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart on the opposite page – and that Ministers continue to pay lip service to the role of the further education sector.

Policy (and Education Secretary Michael Gove is not slow in coming forward with new pronouncements on a weekly basis) still revolves almost exclusively around the robustness of GCSE and A-level exams – or the quality of university degree courses.

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However Mr Gove needs to acknowledge the specific needs of those young people who are left in limbo when they leave school at the age of 16 because they’re unsure of their career choice – or who are not sufficiently gifted to continue with their studies on a full-time basis.

He has said that teenagers will be compelled to continue their education until they achieve national benchmarks in English and maths, but has given very little thought to the practicalities and how colleges will handle an influx of students. The fact that they did not make the grade at secondary school means that they will require time and attention. Are there enough lecturers to provide this tuition?

As such, it is significant that Bradford College’s chief executive Michele Sutton is the new president of the Association of Colleges.

As she makes clear in today’s newspaper, further education remains in the shadow of universities – and that does not bode well for the future of those communities which are over-dependent on the welfare sector because their young people do not have the skills which will enable them to make a contribution to society as hard-working, responsible adults.

Adlington’s angst over pool closures

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REBECCA Adlington, the golden girl of British swimming, will always have a special affinity with Sheffield – the city’s Ponds Forge complex was invariably the location for her key Olympic and World Championship trials.

Yet the role model’s visit there yesterday could prove to be the most significant of her career. She was launching the next stage of her SwimStars initiative that intends to teach children how to swim before they leave primary school. As a discipline, it could not be more important – in extreme circumstances it can be the difference between life and death.

What is deflating, however, is the fact that the Government is failing to harness Adlington’s enthusiasm because many swimming pools are threatened with closure.

While volunteers have helped to save the historic Bramley baths in Leeds, the Ennerdale pool in Hull is now listed for closure.

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As Adlington herself has said: “Closing pools will have a terrible impact on not only the health of the nation, but also the sporting legacy in this country.”

It is a message that Ministers need to take on board before another generation of children are left to sink or swim.